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CPU usage spiking, computer frozen (long)

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August 16, 2006 3:32:37 AM

Sorry if I'm posting on the wrong forum, but I don't know where this belongs since I don't know what's causing the problem. This PC started out as a Emachine T2482. Over past few years, I've been changing components and reinstalling the Emachine System Restore cds over and over again. But, lock ups in one form or another always keep coming back on this system even though I've replaced just about everything over the years, except the CPU.

In the latest episode of my battle with this PC, I replaced the motherboard. Then, I used the System Restore cds that came with this Emachine as usual and everything installed fine. But, when I try to boot Windows, it would bring up an error message saying "windows did not start properly last time" and it gives me the standard options. Even after I format and did a fresh system restore, the PC kept booting to this "windows did not start properly" message! Also, no matter what I'd choose on the "windows did not start" menu, PC wouldn't boot up to Windows. Finally, I just installed a separate, independent copy of Windows XP, which fixed that problem. Everything ran fine for like a month. But suddenly today, this is what it started doing:

1. Windows XP loads up fine EVERYTIME. But once it loads, I can't click anything on the desktop. If I move the mouse down to the Taskbar at the bottom, icon changes from pointer to hourglass and I can't click on anything on the Taskbar either. Nothing works except bringing up Task Manager. Task Manager shows CPU usage going up and down from 0% to 100% though nothing is running. Task Manager eventually locks up too if I drag it around.

2. It can load Windows in Safemode with network. In Safemode, I can click on all the icons, internet works, and everything else seems to function and respond normally.

3. I don't think it is an overheating issue. Also, it doesn't seem like there is any virus or spyware. The only things I can think of (and basically the only things I didn't replace) are PSU and CPU.

Specs:
Athlon XP 2400+
Foxconn K7S741GXMG-6L
WD 160 gig HD
2 x 256MB generic RAM
Sapphire Radeon 9600XT
Bestec 250W PSU
DVD ROM
CD burner
Windows XP SP2


I'm pretty sure a clean Windows XP install would fix it, but I'm looking for a more efficient yet permanent solution. I'm really lost and would appreciate some fresh ideas. Thanks.
August 16, 2006 4:19:51 AM

A completely clean (non e-machines bloated install) WinXP install is probably the most efficient solution.

But seriously, it sounds just like spyware/malware to me. Clean out your java cache and go to trendmicro.com and run the online virus scanner in addition to your normal spyware scanners. Use msconfig to troubleshoot your startup programs.

I had a problem similar to this where my computer would bog completely after windows loaded. I traced it to a component of my software firewall. I uninstalled my firewall (Computer Associates version of Zone Alarm) and the problem was solved. I reinstalled the firewall and the problem returned.
August 16, 2006 12:29:16 PM

What components are you running with now? Did you install drivers that came with the components that you upgraded to or are you just using the eMachines disk for all of the drivers? Maybe you have a driver conflict somewhere. Find a cracked copy of windows and don't install SP2, you would be better off.
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August 16, 2006 3:58:08 PM

I'm not sure what you mean? I listed the specs. I've updated all the latest drivers except the video card. I think I'm using catalyst 5.5 or something like that. I don't want to use pirated copy of Win XP because I like some of the updates. You think SP2 is causing the problem?
August 16, 2006 4:27:39 PM

Also, in Task Manager, don't just look for the list of applications... look at the list of processes. That will tell you exactly what is sucking up the processor time. Then once you find the program, do a google search on that and you will most likely find out whether it's malware (quite possible) or some corrupted program.
August 16, 2006 4:52:34 PM

I agree, this is almost assuradly a spyware infection. I used to work tech support at a university and 80% of the calls were spyware. It's practically all I ever did.

Spyware can be very tricky and hide itself. You are best off getting all your spyware tools onto a CD and running them in safe mode (or a thumb drive.. sometimes the CD drive is disabled in safe mode... depends on drivers).

However, sometimes with big infections you can't remove everything successfully and the problem comes back. The amount of time fixing the problems is more than the time it takes to reinstall windows.

So when you reinstall windows, you should install SP2 before going online to getting windows updates (even better option would be to slipstream SP2 and use a program like n-lite to add windows updates to the install disk). Switch to Firefox + adblock extension + no script extension. If you must use IE, then install Google toolbar and immunize IE with Spybot Search and Destroy. Of course I assume you have a firewall and antivirus running.
August 16, 2006 5:11:39 PM

Boot into Windows Safe Mode with Networking and take baladorr's advice about using Trend's Free online malware scanner.
August 16, 2006 6:18:19 PM

It's a simple case of MS sticking it to us again......

Go into control panel and disable automatic updates. You're probably running a unregistered copy of MS WinXP. If you disable auto updates, processor stops trying to let MS know...... and voila....pc is back in action....

good luck.
August 16, 2006 7:23:39 PM

Thanks for the tips guys. I am running genuine Win XP with SP2, and using Win Defender and Etrust antivirus with XP firewall. Yeah, I think it's likely malware too, but I couldn't get anything detected so far. When I go home, I guess I'll just have to try different anti-spywares in safemode until I get lucky. I really hope I won't have to reinstall Win XP. I know Firefox is less popular so naturally less malwares target it, but is it really much more secure than IE?
August 16, 2006 7:28:05 PM

Just noticed on reboots on my PC, it was getting MS updates, which was using up to 100 percent usage.

Today, that was the 1st thing up into windows. It installed about 9 KBXXXXXXXXX updates on my system.

Perhaps the updater was running?
August 16, 2006 7:45:30 PM

Quote:
I know Firefox is less popular so naturally less malwares target it, but is it really much more secure than IE?

No this is false. I use Firefox too but one shouldn't think it is more secure than any other web browser. When properly setup it can be very secure, but so can IE. Firefox's popularity is growing strong, therefore more and more malware writers will start including it. The point being is to not lull yourself into a false sense of security as any system can be compromised.

Safe Mode is sort of like a barebones Windows so most malware will not load itself when you boot into. Unfortunately most AV programs do not function in Safe Mode without a little help. The free online scanners almost always work in Safe Mode when used in conjunction with IE. If the malware is not loaded, the online scanner doesn't need to try to unload it (which most AV fails at anyway). It can simply locate the infected files and get rid of them and (hopefully) any registry entries that go with them.

Most AVs are meant to keep malware from entering the system but if one gets past them they can be next to useless. I'm just paranoid, but I don't trust them to completely remove malware. Safe Mode and a free online scanner works for me everytime.
August 16, 2006 8:02:56 PM

I once had a problem like this a couple years ago where windows was taking for freaking-ever to generate an error log after it crashed (but certainly looked like spyware). But your best bet is to see exactly what process is hogging the CPU in the task manager. This should easily let you see if it's spyware or something else.

If the program is causing trouble is dumprep, you could try turning off any lines that say anything about dumprep in the startup tab of msconfig (from safe mode) and turn off generating reports of errors ( in safe-mode: from properties of my computer, advanced, startup and recovery turn off write an event log temporarily).
August 16, 2006 8:14:03 PM

I've had two instances of computers exhibiting the same symptoms you are having, both times it turned out to be a corrupted antivirus program trying to update itself and not completing the process. After I removed/uninstalled the program the problem went away and I reinstalled the AV program with no issues.
August 18, 2006 10:01:34 PM

I used Trendmicro's scan and it found/deleted the malwares! Now everything is back to normal. Thanks everyone, especially Baladorr!
September 14, 2006 12:04:11 AM

Hey that's great I'm happy I was able to help. Make sure you empty that java cache though.

My contract ran out, anybody looking to hire a good field technician?
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